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Revisiting European Unemployment: Unemployment, Capital Accumulation, and Factor Prices

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  • Olivier Blanchard

Abstract

This paper starts from two sets of facts about Continental Europe.The first is the steady increase in unemployment since the early 1970s. The second is the evolution of the capital share, an initial decline in the 1970s, followed by a much larger increase since the mid-1980s. The paper then develops a model of capital accumulation, unemployment and factor prices. Using this model to look at the data, it reaches two main conclusions: The initial increase in unemployment, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, was mostly due to a failure of wages to adjust to the slowdown in underlying factor productivity growth. The initial effect was to decrease profit rates and capital shares. Over time, the reaction of firms was to reduce capital accumulation and move away from labor, leading to a steady increase in unemployment, and a recovery of the capital share. The reason why wage moderation, clearly evident in the data since the mid-1980s, has not led to a decrease in unemployment is that another type of shift has been at work, this time on the labor demand side. At a given wage and a given capital stock firms have steadily decreased employment. The effect of this adverse shift in labor demand has been to lead to both continued high unemployment, and increasing capital shares. What lies behind this shift in labor demand? There are two potential lines of explanation. The first is shifts in the distribution of rents away from workers, for example, the elimination of chronic excess employment by firms. The second explanation points to technological bias: firms in Continental Europe are introducing technologies biased against labor and towards capital.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 6566.

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Date of creation: May 1998
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Publication status: published as Geary Lecture, ESRI, June 1998.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:6566

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  1. Michael Bruno & Jeffrey D. Sachs, 1985. "Economics of Worldwide Stagflation," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number brun85-1, octubre-d.
  2. Daron Acemoglu, 2002. "Directed Technical Change," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(4), pages 781-809.
  3. Olivier Blanchard & Lawrence F. Katz, 1996. "What We Know and Do Not Know About the Natural Rate of Unemployment," NBER Working Papers 5822, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Acemoglu, Daron, 1997. "Why Do New Technologies Complement Skills? Directed Technical Change and Wage Inequality," CEPR Discussion Papers 1707, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Oliver J. Blanchard, 1997. "The Medium Run," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 28(2), pages 89-158.
  6. Caballero, Ricardo J. & Hammour, Mohamad L., 1998. "Jobless growth: appropriability, factor substitution, and unemployment," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 51-94, June.
  7. Jason G. Cummins & Kevin A. Hassett & R. Glenn Hubbard, 1994. "A Reconsideration of Investment Behavior Using Tax Reforms as Natural Experiments," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 25(2), pages 1-74.
  8. Stephen Nickell, 1997. "Unemployment and Labor Market Rigidities: Europe versus North America," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 55-74, Summer.
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